While some security professionals join the field after graduating college, others find their passion for security after entering the workforce. Julia Sanya did both — while studying Criminology and Criminal Justice full-time at the University of Maryland, she also worked full-time for a large retail organization as a Loss Prevention Agent. “I was just hooked. I was in love with it,” Sanya says. “I did that for a few years, and then I eventually transitioned into a role at Capital One,” she says.
Sanya started as a Principal Investigator in the firm’s internal fraud investigations team and then transitioned into enterprise physical security, earning the Senior Manager, Enterprise Safety & Security role. She leads security operations in Capital One’s Tysons, Virginia region, which includes the firm’s recently constructed headquarters and public campus, Capital One Center. She partners with campus tenants to help them identify, manage and measure physical security risks for the site.
Sanya played an integral role in the construction of Capital One Center, a growing multi-building facility that includes offices, retail locations, a hotel and a performing arts center, among other spaces. Sanya has overseen the design, construction and implementation of a security system on the corporate campus. “I’ve really been blessed and honored to have a front-row seat to the evolution of our headquarters campus,” she says. “When I first started here at Capital One, our headquarters was one single high-rise building. Fast forward to today, and we now have a headquarters campus that encompasses public and private spaces.”
Maintaining security on an open campus has been an interesting challenge, says Sanya. “We have to secure our facilities, but do it in a way that we allow our associates, visitors and members of our community to enjoy the public amenities.”
Building partnerships with campus tenants and cross-functional teams has been a critical strategy leading to the successful security operations onsite. As the corporate campus continues to expand, Sanya has stressed the importance of getting security perspectives in on the ground floor of construction. “Security has been known as the guards and gates type of operation in the past,” she says.
To shift that mindset, Sanya emphasizes providing clear design expectations to integrators and architects around what the firm needs and determining how to best use technology for the safety of all stakeholders. From designing the campus security system to training tenants to identify security risks, “it’s definitely an integrated approach. Our security team works with all of our partners to ensure that the way the campus is designed and how it operates meets the needs of the business.”
Meeting business needs is a foundational goal of Sanya’s work. By protecting the Capital One community, she has built a reputation for the enterprise security team as a business enabler, rather than an inhibitory function. “Traditionally, people have seen security as folks who are just going to tell you what you can’t do. That’s not what we’re here to do,” says Sanya. “At the end of the day, this business needs to thrive and run, so we’re here to support that.”
Sanya believes that preparation is key to enabling business resilience. “By doing the work on the front end to understand what leadership is most invested in — most notably protecting our people — we can tailor our recommendations more appropriately to them and really get their buy-in.”
After years of supporting the Chief Security Officer, representing security in high-level conversations, and working with internal and external partners to secure Capital One facilities, Sanya has honed her communication skills. Advocating for security investments necessitates a transparent, realistic approach to risk and business partnerships.
“When you’re framing security recommendations in C-suite conversations, it’s important to approach security from a risk-based approach. Speaking their language is going to help, and you do that by providing a lot of the metrics and the data to back that up,” Sanya says. “One thing that’s also really important and often overlooked is the importance of benchmarking, or understanding what our peers are doing.” Comparing security initiatives to those at peer organizations can help communicate risk and security value in the boardroom, Sanya notes.
When it comes to forming security partnerships, clear communication is also essential. “Be genuine with your approach to your partnerships. Sometimes those take time — it’s a matter of investing really heavily into building that trust with those individuals,” Sanya says. Security is an all-hands-on-deck effort, and fostering trust in partners can help identify security risks before they become active threats to a business, she says.
In her role, Sanya highlights the importance of outreach from security teams. By initiating contact and following up with tenants at Capital One Center, she and her team help create an environment where businesses know who to call in the event of an incident.
Much of Sanya’s leadership and communication style rests on her belief that anyone can make an impact on security. To this day, she is proud of her own experience as a successful woman of color in the security field.
“When you look out in the landscape, you don’t see a lot of folks that look like me or have my background,” Sanya says. “I’m proud of being able to set the tone and rise in my career without having that more traditional law enforcement background. And to be able to do that as a young person, as a woman, and as a woman of color is something I’m really proud of.”